A Good Book

There are more books produced regarding faith and spirituality than any other subject by a wide margin. It isn’t even close. From the Torah to the latest commentary on modern paganism, our drive to seek answers to questions of the unseen has called many to express in writing their thoughts on the ethereal and how it may influence our lives.

I am not a reader. Not to say I don’t read, I do it all the time. What I don’t do is read many books. As a kid I read a lot until I was about 10, mostly “true” stories about particular people or events. The biggest exception would be Tarzan, the 300 page novel, not the comic. I remember when the epic movie came out a couple years later and thinking, ‘How could that story be made into a movie? Two thirds of it were his unspoken thoughts’. They couldn’t. Though it was a huge success and critically acclaimed, it left me flat. I then understood what my parents meant in saying “the book was so much better” as I wished the audience had taken the voyage of Tarzan thinking his way through figuring out he was not an ape, teaching himself to read, figuring out his social position among the apes and other animals, on and on. All the annoying complaints of a reader exiting the theater. I read a few fiction and fantasy novels in my teens, but as an “adult” I’ve read very few books.

I’ve read a couple Christian beliefs books, namely Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin and True Christianity by Johann Arndt. I’ve read a few fiction books here and there over the years but not more than a dozen I would guess. Reading for me generally comes in investigation and research. Articles, reports, short stories, summaries, parts of books, the more direct and to the point, the better. I have read in whole or in part, the primary writings of many religions. I just find most books boring. I have however, read the Bible more times than I can count.

The Holy Bible enthralls me again and again. I read the Bible, listen to audiobook Bibles, I reference the Bible. Nothing else captures my attention like immersing myself in the Word. For anyone who has experience with ADD, (real ADD not just lack of discipline) finding something that consistently holds your attention is a miracle. If you have not read it, you should. If you have, you should read it again. As you go through the live action scenes of life, remember to return to the book it is based on. The Bible isn’t just a good book, it is The Good Book.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John chapter 1, verse 1

Born into Religion?

many-religions

The idea that practicing a religion is just a result of where you live and grew up, with no greater truth or value than other cultural or social connections is increasingly common. Still, we feel the pull of spirituality in our technology driven lives. As we engage and pursue questions of life and death, we can go with the flow or seek God’s outstretched hand. People with spiritual calling try to find answers for questions with much easier and broader access to information and therefore greater awareness of multiple religions and belief structures than was common for most people until recently. People have always engaged their faith to varying levels, but have historically identified strongly with one religion in particular, that is changing.

Many religions both past and present, give similar messages of love and acceptance, and impart parallel stories of creation, floods, and judgment of our souls. Often separated primarily by names, places and details, they rise from multiple cultures, in different ages and from distant locations. Like different pieces of a layered puzzle they overlap each other, filling in gaps while broadening the horizon and focusing perspective. As a Christian I cannot deny the clear necessity of God’s influence on the faith, if not the beliefs, of many of those who are not. These commonalities are used by many to discredit faith and even more so, religion. But these similarities actually work to reinforce the case for a God of all creation and the less than Godly nature of all created beings.

Though we have evidence of humans living 200,000 years ago and proof of complex building over 10,000 years ago, we can’t give an accurate account of what human society was doing 5,000 years ago. As we continue to uncover and decipher more about our past, we find things we have been taught for generations to be absolutely true are completely wrong, and things we were assured were simply myth or allegory are accurate accounts. The written records we do have which form our understanding of history are clues to our past but not at all the iron clad all encompassing truth of what was happening as they are portrayed. I’ve read news reports and seen video reporting of events I was present for and found the actual experience to be nothing like the story being told. The slant of the story teller or the many stories never told make history a vast mystery in many respects. The same distortion in the retelling of events taking place today has gone on since men have told stories. Some key players are mentioned, the writers perception or propaganda spin of the situation recorded, the elevation or diminishment of importance of the people or events presented as fact by the teller.

As much as we would like to think religion is free from this sort of edited, or partial records edition of history, it is not. The Bible for example, makes no mention, good or bad about many peoples, places and things that existed when the books in it were written. Not being mentioned, or having only brief reference doesn’t mean they didn’t exist, or weren’t significant. More importantly and possibly harder to come to terms with, is those omissions don’t diminish the Bible’s message, value or truth. Most religious people don’t think they have all the answers. They have enough answers, enough to cast their faith upon.

Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, Jews, Hindus, any religion you can think of really, has very few strict adherents or even believers in every single aspect, rule or instruction of its teachings. Anyone who comes close is considered ignorant, extremist, fanatical, or just plain crazy. We are taught religion by those around us, so we’re all likely to end up following the basic religion of those around us, but God reaches out to everyone. Jesus’ preaching to the living and the dead allows the opportunity for all to follow Christ, the only way to the Father.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”-Jesus

Christmas Before Thanksgiving!?!

I couldn’t resist my chance to join the “Christmas before Thanksgiving” club just as it looks to be losing steam. I celebrate the near universal call to individualize the holidays, but not because I hate Christmas music.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I was blessed with a grandmother who loved doing crafts and having her many young grandchildren together for stringing popcorn, decorating the tree while singing carols, making gingerbread houses and blanket forts…all the stuff you find hokey by the time you’re 10. By age 6, it became a month long event for me with school concert rehearsals, lights going up on streetlights and houses and at home, a tree decorated three weeks beforehand, with presents gradually accumulating as the time approached. We would have Christmas at home on Christmas Eve, wake up to Santa’s bounty, then hit the road to alternating grandmothers’ houses for a big meal with all the respective aunts, uncles, cousins and guests. What’s not to like?

I started working young and had kids somewhat early so my excitement for Christmas made a natural transition from the joy of receiving to the joy of giving. I knew what Christmas was for but it really didn’t have any great meaning for me beyond my personal experience. I loved the lights, the snow, cookies and candies, family gatherings and of course, presents, both giving and receiving. At 28 I became a single dad of two with a huge lawyer bill and a lot of stress. For a few years a wing and a prayer was all that held me together. Christmas became a financial and emotional burden. Just as my life of prayer was developing, the holiday of my savior’s birth became a real struggle. As life pulled back in focus, Christmas began to be a celebration again and the business of Christmas was mostly back to normal. But several years of raising two kids on a very tight budget, couldn’t help but sour me on the commercial Christmas expanding around the savior I had come to know. The Black Friday Death Race is the culmination of the Santa story; be good, get the stuff you want. Being good of course is relative and society had boiled it down to affording indulgence, getting the stuff you want wasn’t about receiving a gift anymore, but of completing a mission.

There was a bumper sticker that became popular at what seems like the height of the commercial Christmas. When everyone still said “Merry Christmas” without a lot of arguing over “happy holidays” but without much attention to the point of the celebration. “Put the Christ back in Christmas” started showing up everywhere. It wasn’t long after, the big arguments about the political correctness of “Merry Christmas” got out of hand. The kind of unchallenged joy I had as a kid at Christmas was no longer available to the average kid as grade school Christmas pageants and gift exchanges were adapted or abandoned in favor of less controversial, and less meaningful presentations. The innocence of enjoyment without controversy became difficult if not impossible without some sort of social isolation. Everyone knows it is the celebration of Jesus birth, but now rather than a mindless backdrop of a party, it has become a dividing line.

Jesus is the Christ in Christmas, his gift is the greatest gift. It isn’t given to us because we were good. It has nothing to do with getting new stuff. Christ brings a sword and putting him back in Christmas has shown us what that looks like, just as he said it would be. For me Christmas always comes before Thanksgiving, because without Him, there is nothing to be thankful for.

Pizza Wars part 2

( For part 1 go to MettleChurch.com )

There are many great minds with dedicated ambition to trace the meaning of the words of Christ and what they imply, what their true meaning is in our lives. There is a whole industry of seminaries, conferences, seminars, church hierarchy, writers, and commentators surrounding the execution of the great commission of continual and expanding sharing of the gospel. We are blessed to live in a society where deep study, discussion and debate are almost universally possible. Having a thriving academic vein dedicated to studying the depths of possible comprehension of God is invaluable. Following in the unceasing footsteps of scholars, securing and conveying knowledge from an organized perspective is a good thing, but goes greatly to waste.

The battles rage on over the fine details of differing theologies, countless hours are spent studying and discussing the great saints and evangelists of the past and someone is always working on a newer, better interpretation of scripture. Theological education and study is primarily a residual rehashing of other people’s rehashing of a Christian doctrine laid out 300 years after Jesus resurrection. The study and comparing of “isms”. You see many students’ views and beliefs shift with each passing semester as if they have no thoughts of their own. Conspiracy theories aside, those who established that doctrine were just men like the rest of us, doing their best to frame something incomprehensible to mortal man in a way that could be reduced to as few words as possible in order to set a firm comprehensible standard, without limiting God. The theologians who came after try instead to use many words to describe and expand upon the few words in an attempt to define at least a portion of the depths of infinity. The war over the meanings of words preoccupies actual free-flow of ideas and concepts with a sort of brainwashing effect.

Studying the works and thoughts of religions’ history is important, it shows both good and bad examples of what becomes of different lines of thought and ways of doing things. Original thoughts however, carry a deeper understanding of the broader meaning and implications of an idea, when followed by study, than could ever be achieved when the study comes first. Original thoughts are not to be confused with new thoughts. Original thoughts are new to the individual, connections or questions made within our own minds, and happen all the time. New thoughts are a very rare thing and thinking you have one usually indicates your particular level or area of ignorance.

Whether the current standard for formal study of the faith and hierarchy of the church and it’s divisions is about believing the revealed truth has been understood and “here it is” or just a formula devised to claim a bigger piece of the religious pie is becoming irrelevant. The world is becoming smaller and the current doctrines and professed beliefs are making God seem smaller as science whittles away at the need for his influence. Ten minute introductions for great theologians who speak like politicians for two hours to crowds of colleagues mincing words like cutting several pizzas and putting pieces from different ones back together to better describe the pizza or create a new pizza, will not feed the crowds.

Our God is a divine infinite. As we learn more about ourselves and our universe, our Father only grows larger and more amazing. The chains we put on our faith and his power by holding to traditional beliefs of world and religious history or ignoring these issues like they don’t exist while great minds endlessly debate the specific meanings of mutually understood ideas, rather than take a step back to look at creation is nothing more than a distraction from God’s ongoing revealing of himself in the grandeur and complexity of our spirits and universe.

The new battle is forming. There is a push to reevaluate our understanding of the Bible and pull religious dogma back towards Christ’s teachings, but it has not yet moved the established war of words from the battlefield. Preaching generally steers clear of most of the controversial issues and thankfully, most refocused on God’s mercy through Christ. Nothing more than the Bible and a broader perspective is needed for a deeper understanding of the universe than was historically recognized or possible, but we have filled in details, found or tied in other evidence of material history and God’s influence. Ignoring or denying the facts, and sticking to bygone conjecture to fill historical gaps is utterly ridiculous. It is time for a new reformation which allows for the infinite loving God who knows us, and we can know but still cannot comprehend.

Pizza Wars part 1

I really like pizza, the majority of people in the western world like pizza. There are some who don’t and some can take it or leave it, but if you’re trying to feed a large group of people with varying tastes and lifestyles, pizza has pretty broad appeal. But it’s not as simple as it might seem.

Pizza, five letters forming an Italian word defined as flat dough, typically covered in savory sauce and cheese, which may include other toppings of meats and vegetables, then baked. When we say pizza we initially agree on what the word means and what it is. Then we start getting more specific and things get complicated. Round or square? Thick crust or thin? Tomato sauce or Alfredo? Cheese, veggie, pepperoni, sausage, supreme? Or some real controversy; pineapple? Many words have different meanings, but pizza has just one, yet it still means many different things to different people. Give someone from Chicago a piece of authentic Italian pizza and they will look at you like you’ve lost your mind.

Pizza has three primary ingredients which until fairly recently, went basically unchanged and unchallenged. Bread, tomato sauce, cheese. People started adding other stuff to this once basic food to make it into a complete meal. Different trends in topping combinations and crust types come and go and develop in different areas. Now we have cauliflower crust, cheese crust and different kinds of sauces, dessert pizza, pizza rolls, the list goes on. Virtually anything, baked in thin flat layers can be called pizza.

The meaning and image a word (almost any word) conveys, is greatly dependent on the listener. Even in the same generation and culture they can have vastly different implications. Each person has their favorite kind of pizza, that’s the image they embrace when they hear “pizza”, whether it’s meat lovers stuffed crust with extra cheese or gluten free vegan. But you won’t often hear people disagree about what original, traditional pizza was and is, we accept that the differences we’ve come up with are our own preferences based on personal tastes and though we may jokingly argue about it, leave others to their own and are probably quite willing to eat their favorite.

The point here is, the meaning of a word, a simple noun, can be argued even when the meaning of a word is agreed upon. Christians have argued the meaning of Jesus’ words for nearly 2000 years. We have dissected and interpreted every morsel we have evidence of in an attempt to grasp it’s meaning and implication. From begrudging compliance to bloody wars we have disagreed about nearly everything he uttered at some point. We live and die by our own self righteous sense of understanding a man who’s closest friends and family seldom understood.

To be continued…

The Way

Christianity isn’t what it used to be, and that’s not all bad. Many things not of God, accepted, endorsed and enforced by the church have come and gone. Many things which contradict Jesus teachings have entered the church and never left. The first followers of Jesus Christ were never called Christians at all, and by the time it was a common term, much of his teachings were already being abandoned, distorted and mischaracterized.

The early church had no name. Sometimes referred to as The Way among other things, it was a new way of living and understanding the world. Questions about Jesus having been a real person who was really crucified hadn’t begun. His ministry and death was common knowledge and if he didn’t rise from death, the people of his time would have cried foul and that would have been the end of his following, as happened with many who had come before or since claiming or thought to be the Christ. The term Christian was eventually coined to give distinction to Jesus Christ’s followers who were by all accounts, different. Family heritage, social class and other divisions accepted by virtually everyone meant nothing among this group of outspoken people. Christ’s followers adopted the name given them, and have kept it throughout history, even when their ways strayed far from The Way.

Though a few notable academics are attempting something of a new reformation of some major church doctrine, they don’t go nearly far enough. People have used Paul’s letters to form religion around what was intended to be a new way for society to function and watered down or misinterpreted Christ’s message to suit their agendas for nearly 2000 years. I understand and sympathize with the resistance to shake the boat too hard, but it must be done. While I don’t know if the slow turn is because of genuine slow changes in understanding or careful protection of position, the common ways of following The Way have wandered far from the narrow path. Though the doctrine and structures of the church carried The Word (emphasizing what they wanted and making up a lot of extras) through the ages among a gradually enlightening society, modern understanding of earth’s history and practical science demand a recanting of much of what the church has held to for millennia.

Prayer

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What are we doing when we pray? Prayer is worship. We’re acknowledging God’s power. It’s knowing that we are weak and flawed and praising or petitioning something greater than ourselves. Without faith, prayer is just a wish list, a superstitious tossing of a coin into a well. A kind of “well, it can’t hurt” approach.
Prayers are made in times of grief, moments of fear, times of reflection and moments of joy. They can become simply a habit, or made for some pretty frivolous and selfish, even hateful reasons. People have prayed to the sun, the moon, stars, planets, animals, trees, water, wind, fire, the list goes on. Prayers are often made to the god we have created for ourselves. A request to a greater version of ourselves with the power to do what we know should be done.
Any time we turn our hearts and minds toward God for solace, guidance or sharing our appreciation is prayer. So is turning our hearts and minds to Him with complaints, frustration and anger. You can rest assured, no one ever said a prayer that wasn’t heard by God, even if the prayer wasn’t made to Him. God also knows why we are praying for whatever we’re praying for, and who we’re praying to. And He knows to who and why we are praying, better than we do.
Christ told us “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” God is there in those dark and angry, lonely times, waiting for us to seek His guidance and comfort. He’s there in those thoughtful contemplative times, waiting to reveal answers. He’s there in the grateful rejoicing times, graciously accepting our praise. Jesus also said “And when you pray don’t heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them”. He doesn’t need you to try to impress Him or other people with repetitious wailings or dramatic expressions. He wants to be in a completely real, honest, totally unguarded relationship with you. He wants to listen to you, alone in your room, door closed.
The prayer given to us by Jesus Christ himself, known as The Lord’s Prayer, tells us not only who God is, what he does for us, and why we can trust Him, It gives us a framework of the intent and understanding that should serve as the foundation and backdrop of all our prayers. As we have come to know it, it comes in three main parts. The first two are directly from Christ and teach us who we are praying to, and what we should rightfully expect from God. The third part was added by Christians is a worshiping praise, showing that we accept and understand what we were taught.
Who are we praying to; (who are we worshipping)

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Taken piece by piece this tells us who God is and why we should worship Him.
Our father; Some dads took care of us and taught us and loved us, some dads were abusive, physically, mentally or by neglect, some people never even know who their father is. The one thing that is the same, and this is true universally, is the primary, intentional involvement in our creation. Whether we were the result of an accident or a planned pregnancy, our fathers took direct and deliberate action to bring us into the world. There is no intermediary between us and our fathers, whether that relationship is a good one or a bad one, either way it’s very personal. Through faith that Jesus is the Son of God the Father, we are all a part of the body of Christ. Christians. As Christians we say “our father” which reflects the first of the Ten Commandments (Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.) We are speaking directly to God, the Father of Jesus Christ, the one whose will began and sustains everything in creation. Without His intent, nothing would be or have ever been. Without Him providing for us, we would cease to be. Sometimes his lessons are painful, what He provides, less than we think we deserve, some we never understand, but he will always be there, teaching and providing.

Who art in heaven; (Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.) God the Father exists beyond our comprehension, he’s not limited to earthly relics or individual perception. God has seen us again and again try to contain him and restrict him, or create our own gods that we are more comfortable with. Gods that are limited to certain places or certain times. God is not in a cross, he’s not in a painting, or a statue, or a church building. He is with each of us wherever we are. He is also in places beyond our wildest imagination.
Hallowed be thy name; (Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.) I used to be bad about this, I did it daily. I didn’t really think of it as breaking a commandment, it was just a common expression, but really it is disrespecting God. To use his name but not actually give him any thought. We are not to profane the name of The Lord by calling on Him with bad intent and we are to pay due honor any time we mention Him.

Thy kingdom come; God created everything and reigns supreme over all of it. In Christ’s coming he declared the Kingdom. In Christ’s return, He’ll complete it. His Kingdom is the place where everyone who has put their faith in The Son come together under the Father, not simply a place on a map. We live in the Kingdom if we have faith in Christ, no matter where we are.

Thy will be done; We’re saying that we want what He wants, more than what we want ourselves and that we understand that all God wants to happen will happen. That’s where we go all in with prayer. Understanding that God knows best and that He is engaged it seeing it through.
On earth as it is in heaven; God is intentional in our lives and our world. He didn’t just set us up with a fancy spinning rock and sit back and watch. He isn’t just a “big-picture” Deity. He is working on us and through us every day.
We’re worshipping the one who started it all, He allowed all of us to be here. The One who sacrificed His own Son to save us from ourselves. We are worshipping the ultimate power and authority.
The Second part of the Lord’s Prayer teaches us what we should expect if we have faith. What we should expect of him and why will it be granted.
Give us this day our daily bread; Now, I like bread. But what we are referring to here is more than that. We are stating that God is providing whatever we need to sustain ourselves. Worries have no place in the Kingdom of God. People get desperate when times are hard and do things out of desperation because we think that we have no other choice. Those are the times when God is asking us to trust in Him, trust that he will provide what we need when we know, fear and revere Him. All that is best for us at that time is what we will have, if we have faith. It may not be what we planned, but it will be what we need.
And forgive us our trespasses; This is our confession, knowing and admitting that we have done wrong, at whatever level, mind, body or spirit. Its also our statement of faith that through God’s grace, granted to us on behalf of His Son Jesus Christ, he will forgive us.
As we forgive those who trespass against us; Its easy to feel convicted when we read or hear about how we shouldn’t judge, we need to forgive others and love our enemies. It’s hard to forgive those that have wronged us or the people we care about. Overall, people don’t think about mistakes or even want to admit to ourselves the things we have done wrong very often. We make excuses to justify our behavior, a lot of times we end up blaming the very same people we should be asking to forgive us. Judgement comes for all of us, we are to love others as we love ourselves. We would want to be forgiven, our grace to others is the measure which we should wish to have applied to ourselves. God’s grace is endless, it can cover anything we have done if we simply trust in Christ. When we allow ourselves to believe, we feel that grace within ourselves. The peace that it grants us gets extended to others. The more we accept that our sins are forgiven, the more aware of them we become, and the less we can blame others for theirs. Once you have faith in God’s goodwill, you become another outlet for it.
And lead us not into temptation; A person of faith is still a person. Still susceptible to sin, but doesn’t want to be. We ask that God limit the influence of bad examples, and reduce the draw to and desire of sinning.
But deliver us from evil; We are pursued by Satan who tempts us to sin and faithlessness. Without God’s forgiveness and help he will catch us. He will take us down with him if he can.
The last section is pure praise, and it shows that we have learned, not earned our place in the Kingdom. God was not elected, the Kingdom is, always was and always will be His to control and define.

For thine is the kingdom; God has authority over all things, on all levels. As Christians, we are the subjects.
And the power; God controls every detail, nothing can restrict or limit the fulfillment of His will.
And the glory; Only God is worthy of praise and adoration.
Forever and ever; He is unchanging and unchangeable.
Amen; The word amen, is simply an affirmation of truth, our prayer is offered to God in good faith and without deception.

Christ teaches us, saying “our” Father, “our” daily bread, forgive “our” trespasses, as “we” forgive trespassers against “us”, lead “us”, deliver “us.” As Christians we are all one body. Joined together by the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ. There is no room for selfish endeavors or ill will in prayer.

The apostles asked Jesus; how do we pray. Christ gave a direct answer, He gave us the Lord’s Prayer. He doesn’t tell us these are the only words we can use, He said to ask anything of the Father in His name and it will be done. Unfortunately, people are sinful, we aren’t selfless, we don’t love others as we love ourselves, we aren’t humble or grateful. But if we remember who we’re telling the Father of all creation, is our personal reference, and are honest with ourselves, nothing selfish or ill willed can come out. When asked with complete faith and a heart of accepting the words and meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, every prayer is granted. When we put our faith in the salvation Christ granted us, praising God isn’t an obligation, it’s an honor.